First up, planet-sized thanks to all of the many volunteers who participated in our recent survey and volunteer forum. We wanted to hear from you about your experience with us, and you responded with your usual generosity and enthusiasm. We had nearly 10o responses to our survey, and these insights were deepened and expanded upon at our volunteer forum, when about 25 volunteers spent 2 hours giving us their thoughts on the volunteer experience, our workshops, and where we go from here. Your input was invaluable, and has given us a bunch of ideas about how we can improve things. The main things you told us are below, along with the responses we've come up with. We won't be able to address all the issues at once, but we will start now and continue to improve the volunteering experience over time. Thank you.
1. Training, training, training. While most of you thought our current training session was very good, you hoped it could be followed up by more sesssions, covering more topics. So we will:
a. Re-write the volunteer manual to include more information on the topics you suggested.
b. Prepare some volunteer support sheets on subjects such as: how to edit, how to deal with behavioral issues, how to help your student make his/her writing more creative, what to do at your first workshop, etc. We are putting these together over the coming months and will send them out as required. We'll also put them on our website to keep them for continued reference.
c. Run more professional learning workshops on subjects such as the above. We're on it!
d. In the New Year, we will also run a series of workshops designed to help volunteers become workshop leaders. We know there are lots of you out there who are more than capable, and the workshops will guide you through the process and help you produce a workshop on a topic you're interested in.
2. You wanted opportunities for feedback after classes, and opportunities to share thoughts about your experience. So from now on, for all classes, we will ask people to come in 15 minutes before the class starts, and stay behind for 15 minutes after it finishes.
In the 15 minutes before class, the workshop leader will brief you on what we want the students to do in the workshop. This will cover the basic outcome – eg add more description to their story – and the larger aim – eg. to develop their creativity by investigating new ways to describe things.
In the 15 minutes after class, we will debrief the workshop, and volunteers can raise any concerns or give comments about the class. It’s a chance for the facilitator to give feedback, and for you to share your experiences and gather advice from each other about how best to work with your student/s.
Of course, we understand that work and other commitments mean not everyone will be able to arrive early and stay late. But the opportunity will be there for those who want it.
3. A buddy system for new volunteers, so they can learn from someone else what to expect and debrief afterwards. This is a great idea and ultimately we would like to employ a volunteer co-ordinator to make it work. Until then, are there are keen volunteers who'd like to set this up and run it? Or anyone happy to act as a sounding board for new volunteers? Please let us know! It was also suggested that we might create an online volunteer forum. We'd love to hear from anyone who knows how to do such a thing.
4. It was unclear to some new volunteers about how they sign up for training. We will clarify this, and try to find a way where we can automatically chase up anyone who has signed on to be a volunteer but hasn't signed up to training.
5. Rewrite the volunteering information on our website. We will make it clear that most volunteering is during work time, so people don't come to training then get disappointed that they can’t come in and work with students.
6. You wanted us to utilise your skills more. We know that so many of you have varied and interesting talents. This is mostly a logistical issue: how do we systematically record everyone's talents? We will look into ways of doing that. Watch this space.
7. Run mid-week training sessions. Yep, we'll start that next year.
8. Make our aims clearer. There was some confusion about what the ultimate aims of our workshops are. It was also acknowledged that the aims were different for different students: in some cases, we're mainly aiming to improve writing skills; in others, we're focusing more on developing confidence. We will try to spell this out more clearly for particular sessions, and particular students, and more generally on our website too.
There were lots more suggestions, which we've recorded and will look into over the coming months. To look at the raw data from our survey, please click here.
Once again, thanks to all of you who participated. We look forward to making things better for all our volunteers.